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A Company That Changed Aviation

Boeing Centennial

By Randy Dufault

July 29, 2016 - Last year 800 million people boarded commercial airliners in the United States alone. And thanks to many of the risks William E. Boeing and his company have taken since he incorporated it almost exactly 100 years ago, those people reached their destinations quickly, and, more importantly, safely.

“There is a line of epochal stories that have taken place, pivotal moments where the leaders of the company have literally bet the company,” said Director of Boeing Archives Mike Lombardi. “There are these wonderful pivotal moments in history where they’ve taken tremendous risks that have changed the world.

According to Lombardi some of those risky projects included: starting the U.S.’s first transcontinental airline, inventing the swept wing with the B-47, a design for subsonic jets that is still followed today; the Dash-80 which became the 707 and launched commercial jet travel; building the world’s biggest jet at the time with the 747; and, more recently, developing all-new ways to construct aircraft with the 787.

“Those are wow stories that a lot of us as aviation enthusiasts know something about,” Lombardi said. “But we might not know the full story.”

The story of how the legendary B-17 came to be is a particularly seminal moment in the Boeing timeline.

“Boeing put all of its money into building the prototype,” Lombardi said. “That airplane went to Dayton field to compete against a Douglas airplane and a Martin airplane.

“It was such an incredibly innovative airplane; it was bigger, it was faster, it could fly further and higher than the competition.

“Tragically, the plane crashed and was destroyed. So Boeing was out of the competition by default. We didn’t have an airplane … the whole future was riding on that airplane so the company was done.

“Boeing would have been a footnote in history except that the airplane was so forward looking, so innovative that the Air Corps had to have it and gave Boeing a contract for 13 airplanes using discretionary funds.”

The airplane went on to make history in WWII.

Saturday, July 30, is Boeing Day at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016; Boeing Centennial Plaza will be filled with many examples of the company’s products, both large and small, both new and old, both commercial and military.

At 6:15 p.m. on Saturday night, Lombardi will present even more stories from the company’s rich history at Theater in the Woods. After Lombardi’s appearance, a panel of Boeing test pilots, anchored by Boeing Vice President for Flight Test Craig Bomben, will discuss how the company converts great engineering ideas into safe, dependable flying machines.

“This is an amazing business that we all participate in, one of the greatest human endeavors, the endeavor of flight,” Lombardi said. “We are also fulfilling the dream of leaving the Earth and going into space, the dream of going to the moon, and now that next great dream of traveling into deep space; going to mars and beyond.

“That’s what we do. In a big picture, that’s the story of Boeing, but it is also the story of the endeavor that we are all involved in in this industry.”

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